Art Predator – December, 2009

“The fascination with the dead, with the rotting, with the pigs rooting into the earth, a poem about a primal scene in a root cellar, discovering sex and the underground, taboo, death-related experience–this is what all of Peters’ poetry is about which gives it great originality and power.”–Diane Wachoski

This CD starts out with a prologue and two important pronouncements “I’m 84,” and you can tell from the craggy voice, he is at least that old. The first poems ends with “I simply have to trust whimsy.” This project offers 49 poems by Robert Peters set to music by Harlan Steinberger; like Ellyn’s cd, the poems are here like in a little book. A poet, critic, scholar, playwright, editor and actor, Robert Peters was born in 1924, received his BA in 1948, MA in 1949, and his doctorate in literature in 1952. His first book of poetry, Songs for a Son, published in 1967, is still in print (W.W. Norton). His publications and awards are many. I look forward to sharing some of these works with my 89 year old father-in-law. – Gwendolyn Alley


WLUR FM – November 24, 2009

Now this one’s different: a collection of 49 poems, set to various backing music, that features 84-year-old Wisconsin poet Robert Peters reading his own poems — offering "re-VISIONS," as he describes in his prologue — which are genuine and wonderful, about life in Wisconsin and simple things. The music occasionally enhances but generally provides the backdrop for Peters’ goofy delivery, which is part Daniel Johnston and part Brad Neely. Read along as you play 4, 5, 10, or 21. – December, 2009

Going Down the River in a Hayloft Coffin: The Evocative Years of Robert Peters is comprised of a prologue and 48 compact poems which take listeners on a road trip through the author’s life growing up poor in rural northern Wisconsin up until his elder years living in California. The poems are thick with detail though their structure is minimalist: the muddied, bloodied work of farm life is every bit as visceral as the sensual pleasures of skimming blueberries or eating tuna sandwiches and apples while mountain climbing.

It’s not all rustic nostalgia, however. Peters also excavates childhood fears of losing his father to a hunting accident, sadly sees his son and daughter-in-law off as they leave to return to Japan, and shows his affection for friends and loved ones for whom he’s eulogized with his own poetry. Hearing Peters’ recitations make you feel as if he is right in the room with you, making introductions to the recently departed as well as to the living. The spirit is warm and congenial, as in “At Al Jolson’s Tomb”:

    I stroke the black entablature,
    and praise my life
    anticipating Canter’s corned beef
    with my friends.

Harlan Steinberger composed and performed the music accompaniment to Peters’ CD as he did for Ellyn Maybe’s, but in this case the music doesn’t fare as well. It’s more folksy with banjo and fiddle, which is a perfect match to the bucolic tone of Peters’ words, but at times the tempo is too rhythmic and modern. At such times the poems would do well with no accompaniment at all because Robert Peters’ voice is itself an instrument–wonderfully raspy and gravely whether the poem’s persona is humorous or melancholy, young or wise. To hear Peters’ voice without accompaniment on at least a few of the poems could have been an added treat.

It can be challenging to capture a poet’s authenticity on a recording, even surprising. One would never know from the sound of his poems that Peters holds a doctorate in Victorian literature from the University of Wisconsin, but it’s true. He is a highly regarded poet, scholar, critic, and playwright who also studied acting while teaching at UC Irvine so he could transform his poems into dramatic monologues to reach larger audiences. He succeeded, performing in front of theatre audiences in Los Angeles, Irvine, Provincetown, and New York City, and on college campuses across the country.

Sometimes a great find isn’t a CD by the hottest new musician or rock band a world away, but by a poet and his or her words set to music who’s already in your own backyard, and has been, for a long time. – Julia Bemiss

Author’s Bio:
Julia Bemiss has been published in the San Diego Reader Online, The San Diego Troubadour, WordSD, and in the anthologies for poeticdiversity and the Valley Contemporary Poets. She has featured and read at venues in Los Angeles and San Diego and self-published two chapbooks.


Return to the Product Page for Going Down The River In A Hayloft Coffin: the evocative years of Robert Peters (CD/Mp3)

Return to the Robert Peters Artist Page